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How one dying man led the movement to save Clissold Park

Joseph Beck

This man, Joseph Beck, is the reason Clissold Park wasn’t redeveloped – despite battling cancer of the tongue, he campaigned tirelessly to save it.

His motivation, he said, was so: “children could take their fist steps on the grass of Clissold Park and one day play under the sun.”

This weekend a special event is being held to mark the park’s 130th anniversary. The story of its survival is the stuff movies are made of!

Clissold House and the land surrounding it was built and landscaped in the 1790s for Quaker, city merchant and anti-slavery campaigner Jonathan Hoare. In those days Stoke Newington was a rural village with big houses and large gardens. The house and land passed to the Crawshaw family (wealthy ironmongers from Yorkshire) in 1811.

With the industrial revolution of the 1800s, much of Stoke Newington was transformed into terraced houses and streets – by the 1860s a third of the village had been built over and the park was the last big open green space. So, when the 53-acre plot was offered for sale at £95,000 (£11 million in todays money), Mr Beck and his friend John Runtz launched a desperate campaign to save it.

Their four-year campaign to urge locals and authorities to buy the land sparked furious rows. Some said the park was a ‘swamp’ and not worth saving, others felt they shouldn’t have to contribute to a park outside of their boundaries. In time the campaign team swelled to 65 - they urged the authorities to “let it be a lung for London.”

Telling Mr Beck’s story to a 500-strong crowd of clean-air campaigners, scriptwriter Tom Edge, said: “Even as he fought to preserve Clissold Park from development, Beck was dying, and he knew it. Half of his cancerous tongue was removed, and yet still he spoke at every meeting about the park.

“He wanted this to be a living green lung, meant for local children.”

The campaign focused on the difference Clissold Park would make to the health and wellbeing of local people.

Local historian Amir Dotan, who published extracts of Mr Beck’s scrapbook on his Saving Clissold Park website, was recently behind a campaign to have a historic blue plaque erected in Mr Beck’s honour at his former home Barton House in Albion Road.

The campaign sparked the creation of The Clissold Park Preservation Committee – they brought a Private Bill to Parliament to enable adjoining parishes of Islington, Hackney and South Hornsey to help buy the land, together with a massive £72,500 donation from the Charity Commissioners and Metropolitan Board of Works.

Mr Beck, who worked as an optical and microscope manufacturer, told reporters at the time: “I am not a property holder in the neighbourhood, but I must confess to having had somewhat of a selfish end in view, as I look forward to the pleasure of walking about the park when open and seeing my fellow citizens, no matter what parish they come, enjoying the luxury of the sweet breezes and shade to be found there.

“One more considerable space has been added to the lungs of the metropolis.”

The park was saved! Its official opening took place on July 24th, 1889 – tragically Mr Beck died two years later.

To read more about the campaign visit

Join the celebrations this weekend

This Sunday September 22, a party takes place to celebrate Clissold Park’s 130th birthday.

There’ll be guided tours of Clissold House, a talk by historian Amir Dotan (11am) and tree walks with the Tree Musketeers.

Among the attractions will be magic courtesy of the Twisted Fork, yoga sessions, live music, a coconut shy, exercise sessions and visits from the police and fire engine.

The Local Buyers Club will be there as will Growing Communities and the community library.



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